Skyline of the city of Houston, Texas Historically, public safety agencies have considered personnel and physical assets—police cars, ambulances, and personnel—the most important elements in providing fast emergency response services. But communicating and coordinating between citizens and first responders can be challenging. Traditionally, most of the information for deploying the right equipment comes from conversations with the person requesting service. The operator is often using a number of different systems, such as handling the telephone call, accessing a Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) solution, and accessing vehicle registration/driver license/criminal databases, all while doing so under stressful circumstances. Shaving crucial seconds off response times depends on how fast the operator can pull data from multiple systems to understand an event as it’s happening and get the resources moving quickly. The ability to quickly integrate data, drive insights, and connect the right people/processes more quickly can potentially save more lives.

This is a top goal because, according to the FCC, a 1-minute decrease in response time reduces mortality rate from 6 to 5 percent (with a 17 percent drop in the total number of deaths).

So while state-of-the-art equipment and trained personnel are still integral to rapid response, the ability to use new and traditional data sources grows more important every day. The physical assets involved haven’t changed dramatically, but the possible connections between them have. Today, operators at emergency call centers (like 911 or 112) are putting together data from smart devices and other sources to help provide more—and more accurate—situational awareness information to first responders, faster than ever before.

The clock is ticking—for callers and first responders

Citizens’ service expectations have grown at least as fast as public safety IT solutions have. People are used to posting to retail and B2B brands’ social channels and getting a timely response, and to tracking their Uber Eats order as it journeys from the restaurant to their front door. These real-time connections between consumers requesting retail services and those who deliver them are now standard, and public agencies are getting on board too.

For example, until recently, if an emergency call center operator didn’t speak the same language as the person requesting help, adding a translation service to the conversation could take several minutes, costing precious time. But by coupling the call taker’s devices with services like Nimbus cloud aided dispatch (CAD) from Microsoft partner RapidDeploy, operators and first responders can get real-time translation on their mobile devices. The RapidDeploy service uses Microsoft Azure services to automatically translate multiple languages, even within the same conversation.

Likewise, companies like Microsoft partners RapidSOS and Capita are addressing the difficulty of getting a caller’s exact location. With no app required, Capita’s 911Eye, 112Eye, and 999Eye services enable callers with smartphones to stream live footage from their phone’s camera into an emergency service control room. These services also provide the caller’s location by way of GPS coordinates, which is faster and more accurate than traditional cellular tower triangulation. There are many other related services that incorporate data from a variety of sources, like the OnStar in-vehicle driver’s assistance program. OnStar emergency calls can be initiated by humans or automotive systems, with real-time data on things like location and vehicle damage while also enabling voice conversations between emergency call center operators and vehicle occupants.

When sending help, agencies are reducing response times with GPS services like Azure-based Esri’s smart Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping software. Instead of relying on map books or familiarity with a neighborhood, operators and first responders can gather, analyze, and share up-to-the-minute information on congestion and road closures, supplemented with views from traffic and police car cameras. Now that first responders can find the fastest routes to emergency scenes with minimal effort, they are freed up to concentrate on situational awareness information, like weather or social media data.

The future is within reach

On the horizon are smart-city technologies that coordinate traffic signals and use social media outputs to warn citizens away from emergency sites, to reduce chaos and keep people safer.

Public agencies’ need for updated IT solutions, like cyber resilience and disaster recovery, has grown, but their budgets haven’t. Thankfully, it’s possible to use cloud services to add intelligence to existing capital expenditure IT investments, adding analytics and data ingestion capabilities without adding hardware. Over time, agencies can replace legacy systems with natively modern cloud-based technologies. Microsoft invests $1 billion annually in Azure to help fortify customers’ environments against threats.

With advances in technology and service expectations happening faster and faster, this is a great time to start looking into the latest intelligent solutions. Download The future of public safety and justice e-book to explore a variety of future-proof, data-driven solutions designed for public safety and justice agencies.